A Thin Ghost and Others
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A Thin Ghost and Others


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, A Thin Ghost and Others, by M. R. (Montague Rhodes) James This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: A Thin Ghost and Others Author: M. R. (Montague Rhodes) James Release Date: January 16, 2007 [eBook #20387] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS*** E-text prepared by Diane Monico and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net/c/) A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS BY MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES, Litt.D. PROVOST OF ETON COLLEGE Author of "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary," "More Ghost Stories," etc. THIRD IMPRESSION NEW YORK LONGMANS, GREEN & CO. LONDON: EDWARD ARNOLD 1920 (All rights reserved) PREFACE Two of these stories, the third and fourth, have appeared in print in the Cambridge Review, and I wish to thank the proprietor for permitting me to republish them here. I have had my doubts about the wisdom of publishing a third set of tales; sequels are, not only proverbially but actually, very hazardous things. However, the tales make no pretence but to amuse, and my friends have not seldom asked for the publication.



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The Project Gutenberg eBook, AThin Ghost and Others, by M. R.(Montague Rhodes) JamesThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: A Thin Ghost and OthersAuthor: M. R. (Montague Rhodes) JamesRelease Date: January 16, 2007 [eBook #20387]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-8859-1***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A THIN GHOST ANDOTHERS***    E-text prepared by Diane Monicoand the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed ProofreadingmaeT(http://www.pgdp.net/c/)A THIN GHOSTAND OTHERSA THIN GHOSTAND OTHERS
YBMONTAGUE RHODES JAMES, Litt.D.PROVOST OF ETON COLLEGEAuthor of "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary," "More Ghost Stories," etc.THIRD IMPRESSIONNEW YORKLONGMANS, GREEN & CO.LONDON: EDWARD ARNOLD0291(All rights reserved)PREFACETwo of these stories, the third and fourth, have appeared in print in theCambridge Review, and I wish to thank the proprietor for permitting me torepublish them here.I have had my doubts about the wisdom of publishing a third set of tales;sequels are, not only proverbially but actually, very hazardous things. However,the tales make no pretence but to amuse, and my friends have not seldomasked for the publication. So not a great deal is risked, perhaps, and perhapsalso some one's Christmas may be the cheerfuller for a storybook which, I think,only once mentions the war.CONTENTSGAPETHE RESIDENCE AT WHITMINSTER1THE DIARY OF MR. POYNTER49AN EPISODE OF CATHEDRAL HISTORY73THE STORY OF A DISAPPEARANCE AND AN APPEARANCE107TWO DOCTORS135
THE RESIDENCE AT WHITMINSTERA Thin Ghost and OthersTHE RESIDENCE AT WHITMINSTERDr. Ashton—Thomas Ashton, Doctor of Divinity—sat in his study, habited in adressing-gown, and with a silk cap on his shaven head—his wig being for thetime taken off and placed on its block on a side table. He was a man of somefifty-five years, strongly made, of a sanguine complexion, an angry eye, and along upper lip. Face and eye were lighted up at the moment when I picture himby the level ray of an afternoon sun that shone in upon him through a tall sashwindow, giving on the west. The room into which it shone was also tall, linedwith book-cases, and, where the wall showed between them, panelled. On thetable near the doctor's elbow was a green cloth, and upon it what he wouldhave called a silver standish—a tray with inkstands—quill pens, a calf-boundbook or two, some papers, a churchwarden pipe and brass tobacco-box, a flaskcased in plaited straw, and a liqueur glass. The year was 1730, the monthDecember, the hour somewhat past three in the afternoon.I have described in these lines pretty much all that a superficial observer wouldhave noted when he looked into the room. What met Dr. Ashton's eye when helooked out of it, sitting in his leather arm-chair? Little more than the tops of theshrubs and fruit-trees of his garden could be seen from that point, but the redbrick wall of it was visible in almost all the length of its western side. In themiddle of that was a gate—a double gate of rather elaborate iron scroll-work,which allowed something of a view beyond. Through it he could see that theground sloped away almost at once to a bottom, along which a stream mustrun, and rose steeply from it on the other side, up to a field that was park-like incharacter, and thickly studded with oaks, now, of course, leafless. They did notstand so thick together but that some glimpse of sky and horizon could be seenbetween their stems. The sky was now golden and the horizon, a horizon ofdistant woods, it seemed, was purple.But all that Dr. Ashton could find to say, after contemplating this prospect formany minutes, was: "Abominable!"A listener would have been aware, immediately upon this, of the sound offootsteps coming somewhat hurriedly in the direction of the study: by theresonance he could have told that they were traversing a much larger room. Dr.Ashton turned round in his chair as the door opened, and looked expectant.The incomer was a lady—a stout lady in the dress of the time: though I havemade some attempt at indicating the doctor's costume, I will not enterprise thatof his wife—for it was Mrs. Ashton who now entered. She had an anxious, evena sorely distracted, look, and it was in a very disturbed voice that she almostwhispered to Dr. Ashton, putting her head close to his, "He's in a very sad way,love, worse, I'm afraid." "Tt—tt, is he really?" and he leaned back and looked inher face. She nodded. Two solemn bells, high up, and not far away, rang outthe half-hour at this moment. Mrs. Ashton started. "Oh, do you think you cangive order that the minster clock be stopped chiming to-night? 'Tis just over hischamber, and will keep him from sleeping, and to sleep is the only chance forhim, that's certain." "Why, to be sure, if there were need, real need, it could be[Pg 1][Pg 3][Pg 4][Pg 5]
done, but not upon any light occasion. This Frank, now, do you assure me thathis recovery stands upon it?" said Dr. Ashton: his voice was loud and ratherhard. "I do verily believe it," said his wife. "Then, if it must be, bid Molly runacross to Simpkins and say on my authority that he is to stop the clock chimesat sunset: and—yes—she is after that to say to my lord Saul that I wish to seehim presently in this room." Mrs. Ashton hurried off.Before any other visitor enters, it will be well to explain the situation.Dr. Ashton was the holder, among other preferments, of a prebend in the richcollegiate church of Whitminster, one of the foundations which, though not acathedral, survived dissolution and reformation, and retained its constitutionand endowments for a hundred years after the time of which I write. The greatchurch, the residences of the dean and the two prebendaries, the choir and itsappurtenances, were all intact and in working order. A dean who flourishedsoon after 1500 had been a great builder, and had erected a spaciousquadrangle of red brick adjoining the church for the residence of the officials.Some of these persons were no longer required: their offices had dwindleddown to mere titles, borne by clergy or lawyers in the town and neighbourhood;and so the houses that had been meant to accommodate eight or ten peoplewere now shared among three, the dean and the two prebendaries. Dr.Ashton's included what had been the common parlour and the dining-hall of thewhole body. It occupied a whole side of the court, and at one end had a privatedoor into the minster. The other end, as we have seen, looked out over thecountry.So much for the house. As for the inmates, Dr. Ashton was a wealthy man andchildless, and he had adopted, or rather undertaken to bring up, the orphan sonof his wife's sister. Frank Sydall was the lad's name: he had been a good manymonths in the house. Then one day came a letter from an Irish peer, the Earl ofKildonan (who had known Dr. Ashton at college), putting it to the doctorwhether he would consider taking into his family the Viscount Saul, the Earl'sheir, and acting in some sort as his tutor. Lord Kildonan was shortly to take up apost in the Lisbon Embassy, and the boy was unfit to make the voyage: "notthat he is sickly," the Earl wrote, "though you'll find him whimsical, or of late I'vethought him so, and to confirm this, 'twas only to-day his old nurse cameexpressly to tell me he was possess'd: but let that pass; I'll warrant you can finda spell to make all straight. Your arm was stout enough in old days, and I giveyou plenary authority to use it as you see fit. The truth is, he has here no boys ofhis age or quality to consort with, and is given to moping about in our raths andgraveyards: and he brings home romances that fright my servants out of theirwits. So there are you and your lady forewarned." It was perhaps with half aneye open to the possibility of an Irish bishopric (at which another sentence inthe Earl's letter seemed to hint) that Dr. Ashton accepted the charge of my LordViscount Saul and of the 200 guineas a year that were to come with him.So he came, one night in September. When he got out of the chaise thatbrought him, he went first and spoke to the postboy and gave him some money,and patted the neck of his horse. Whether he made some movement thatscared it or not, there was very nearly a nasty accident, for the beast startedviolently, and the postilion being unready was thrown and lost his fee, as hefound afterwards, and the chaise lost some paint on the gateposts, and thewheel went over the man's foot who was taking out the baggage. When LordSaul came up the steps into the light of the lamp in the porch to be greeted byDr. Ashton, he was seen to be a thin youth of, say, sixteen years old, withstraight black hair and the pale colouring that is common to such a figure. Hetook the accident and commotion calmly enough, and expressed a properanxiety for the people who had been, or might have been, hurt: his voice was[Pg 6][Pg 7][Pg 8][Pg 9]
smooth and pleasant, and without any trace, curiously, of an Irish brogue.Frank Sydall was a younger boy, perhaps of eleven or twelve, but Lord Saul didnot for that reject his company. Frank was able to teach him various games hehad not known in Ireland, and he was apt at learning them; apt, too, at hisbooks, though he had had little or no regular teaching at home. It was not longbefore he was making a shift to puzzle out the inscriptions on the tombs in theminster, and he would often put a question to the doctor about the old books inthe library that required some thought to answer. It is to be supposed that hemade himself very agreeable to the servants, for within ten days of his comingthey were almost falling over each other in their efforts to oblige him. At thesame time, Mrs. Ashton was rather put to it to find new maidservants; for therewere several changes, and some of the families in the town from which she hadbeen accustomed to draw seemed to have no one available. She was forced togo further afield than was usual.These generalities I gather from the doctor's notes in his diary and from letters.They are generalities, and we should like, in view of what has to be told,something sharper and more detailed. We get it in entries which begin late inthe year, and, I think, were posted up all together after the final incident; butthey cover so few days in all that there is no need to doubt that the writer couldremember the course of things accurately.On a Friday morning it was that a fox, or perhaps a cat, made away with Mrs.Ashton's most prized black cockerel, a bird without a single white feather on itsbody. Her husband had told her often enough that it would make a suitablesacrifice to Æsculapius; that had discomfited her much, and now she wouldhardly be consoled. The boys looked everywhere for traces of it: Lord Saulbrought in a few feathers, which seemed to have been partially burnt on thegarden rubbish-heap. It was on the same day that Dr. Ashton, looking out of anupper window, saw the two boys playing in the corner of the garden at a gamehe did not understand. Frank was looking earnestly at something in the palm ofhis hand. Saul stood behind him and seemed to be listening. After someminutes he very gently laid his hand on Frank's head, and almost instantlythereupon, Frank suddenly dropped whatever it was that he was holding,clapped his hands to his eyes, and sank down on the grass. Saul, whose faceexpressed great anger, hastily picked the object up, of which it could only beseen that it was glittering, put it in his pocket, and turned away, leaving Frankhuddled up on the grass. Dr. Ashton rapped on the window to attract theirattention, and Saul looked up as if in alarm, and then springing to Frank, pulledhim up by the arm and led him away. When they came in to dinner, Saulexplained that they had been acting a part of the tragedy of Radamistus, inwhich the heroine reads the future fate of her father's kingdom by means of aglass ball held in her hand, and is overcome by the terrible events she hasseen. During this explanation Frank said nothing, only looked ratherbewilderedly at Saul. He must, Mrs. Ashton thought, have contracted a chillfrom the wet of the grass, for that evening he was certainly feverish anddisordered; and the disorder was of the mind as well as the body, for heseemed to have something he wished to say to Mrs. Ashton, only a press ofhousehold affairs prevented her from paying attention to him; and when shewent, according to her habit, to see that the light in the boys' chamber had beentaken away, and to bid them good-night, he seemed to be sleeping, though hisface was unnaturally flushed, to her thinking: Lord Saul, however, was pale andquiet, and smiling in his slumber.Next morning it happened that Dr. Ashton was occupied in church and otherbusiness, and unable to take the boys' lessons. He therefore set them tasks tobe written and brought to him. Three times, if not oftener, Frank knocked at the[Pg 10][Pg 11][Pg 12]
study door, and each time the doctor chanced to be engaged with some visitor,and sent the boy off rather roughly, which he later regretted. Two clergymenwere at dinner this day, and both remarked—being fathers of families—that thelad seemed sickening for a fever, in which they were too near the truth, and ithad been better if he had been put to bed forthwith: for a couple of hours later inthe afternoon he came running into the house, crying out in a way that wasreally terrifying, and rushing to Mrs. Ashton, clung about her, begging her toprotect him, and saying, "Keep them off! keep them off!" without intermission.And it was now evident that some sickness had taken strong hold of him. Hewas therefore got to bed in another chamber from that in which he commonlylay, and the physician brought to him: who pronounced the disorder to be graveand affecting the lad's brain, and prognosticated a fatal end to it if strict quietwere not observed, and those sedative remedies used which he shouldprescribe.We are now come by another way to the point we had reached before. Theminster clock has been stopped from striking, and Lord Saul is on the thresholdof the study."What account can you give of this poor lad's state?" was Dr. Ashton's firstquestion. "Why, sir, little more than you know already, I fancy. I must blamemyself, though, for giving him a fright yesterday when we were acting thatfoolish play you saw. I fear I made him take it more to heart than I meant." "Howso?" "Well, by telling him foolish tales I had picked up in Ireland of what we callthe second sight." "Second sight! What kind of sight might that be?" "Why, youknow our ignorant people pretend that some are able to foresee what is tocome—sometimes in a glass, or in the air, maybe, and at Kildonan we had anold woman that pretended to such a power. And I daresay I coloured the mattermore highly than I should: but I never dreamed Frank would take it so near ashe did." "You were wrong, my lord, very wrong, in meddling with suchsuperstitious matters at all, and you should have considered whose house youwere in, and how little becoming such actions are to my character and personor to your own: but pray how came it that you, acting, as you say, a play, shouldfall upon anything that could so alarm Frank?" "That is what I can hardly tell, sir:he passed all in a moment from rant about battles and lovers and Cleodora andAntigenes to something I could not follow at all, and then dropped down as yousaw." "Yes: was that at the moment when you laid your hand on the top of hishead?" Lord Saul gave a quick look at his questioner—quick and spiteful—andfor the first time seemed unready with an answer. "About that time it may havebeen," he said. "I have tried to recollect myself, but I am not sure. There was, atany rate, no significance in what I did then." "Ah!" said Dr. Ashton, "well, mylord, I should do wrong were I not to tell you that this fright of my poor nephewmay have very ill consequences to him. The doctor speaks very despondinglyof his state." Lord Saul pressed his hands together and looked earnestly uponDr. Ashton. "I am willing to believe you had no bad intention, as assuredly youcould have no reason to bear the poor boy malice: but I cannot wholly free youfrom blame in the affair." As he spoke, the hurrying steps were heard again, andMrs. Ashton came quickly into the room, carrying a candle, for the evening hadby this time closed in. She was greatly agitated. "O come!" she cried, "comedirectly. I'm sure he is going." "Going? Frank? Is it possible? Already?" Withsome such incoherent words the doctor caught up a book of prayers from thetable and ran out after his wife. Lord Saul stopped for a moment where he was.Molly, the maid, saw him bend over and put both hands to his face. If it were thelast words she had to speak, she said afterwards, he was striving to keep backa fit of laughing. Then he went out softly, following the others.Mrs. Ashton was sadly right in her forecast. I have no inclination to imagine the[Pg 13][Pg 14][Pg 15][Pg 16]
last scene in detail. What Dr. Ashton records is, or may be taken to be,important to the story. They asked Frank if he would like to see his companion,Lord Saul, once again. The boy was quite collected, it appears, in thesemoments. "No," he said, "I do not want to see him; but you should tell him I amafraid he will be very cold." "What do you mean, my dear?" said Mrs. Ashton."Only that;" said Frank, "but say to him besides that I am free of them now, buthe should take care. And I am sorry about your black cockerel, Aunt Ashton; buthe said we must use it so, if we were to see all that could be seen."Not many minutes after, he was gone. Both the Ashtons were grieved, shenaturally most; but the doctor, though not an emotional man, felt the pathos ofthe early death: and, besides, there was the growing suspicion that all had notbeen told him by Saul, and that there was something here which was out of hisbeaten track. When he left the chamber of death, it was to walk across thequadrangle of the residence to the sexton's house. A passing bell, the greatestof the minster bells, must be rung, a grave must be dug in the minster yard, andthere was now no need to silence the chiming of the minster clock. As he cameslowly back in the dark, he thought he must see Lord Saul again. That matter ofthe black cockerel—trifling as it might seem—would have to be cleared up. Itmight be merely a fancy of the sick boy, but if not, was there not a witch-trial hehad read, in which some grim little rite of sacrifice had played a part? Yes, hemust see Saul.I rather guess these thoughts of his than find written authority for them. Thatthere was another interview is certain: certain also that Saul would (or, as hesaid, could) throw no light on Frank's words: though the message, or some partof it, appeared to affect him horribly. But there is no record of the talk in detail. Itis only said that Saul sat all that evening in the study, and when he bid good-night, which he did most reluctantly, asked for the doctor's prayers.The month of January was near its end when Lord Kildonan, in the Embassy atLisbon, received a letter that for once gravely disturbed that vain man andneglectful father. Saul was dead. The scene at Frank's burial had been verydistressing. The day was awful in blackness and wind: the bearers, staggeringblindly along under the flapping black pall, found it a hard job, when theyemerged from the porch of the minster, to make their way to the grave. Mrs.Ashton was in her room—women did not then go to their kinsfolk's funerals—but Saul was there, draped in the mourning cloak of the time, and his face waswhite and fixed as that of one dead, except when, as was noticed three or fourtimes, he suddenly turned his head to the left and looked over his shoulder. Itwas then alive with a terrible expression of listening fear. No one saw him goaway: and no one could find him that evening. All night the gale buffeted thehigh windows of the church, and howled over the upland and roared throughthe woodland. It was useless to search in the open: no voice of shouting or cryfor help could possibly be heard. All that Dr. Ashton could do was to warn thepeople about the college, and the town constables, and to sit up, on the alert forany news, and this he did. News came early next morning, brought by thesexton, whose business it was to open the church for early prayers at seven,and who sent the maid rushing upstairs with wild eyes and flying hair tosummon her master. The two men dashed across to the south door of theminster, there to find Lord Saul clinging desperately to the great ring of the door,his head sunk between his shoulders, his stockings in rags, his shoes gone, hislegs torn and bloody.This was what had to be told to Lord Kildonan, and this really ends the first partof the story. The tomb of Frank Sydall and of the Lord Viscount Saul, only childand heir to William Earl of Kildonan, is one: a stone altar tomb in Whitminsterchurchyard.[Pg 17][Pg 18][Pg 19]
Dr. Ashton lived on for over thirty years in his prebendal house, I do not knowhow quietly, but without visible disturbance. His successor preferred a househe already owned in the town, and left that of the senior prebendary vacant.Between them these two men saw the eighteenth century out and thenineteenth in; for Mr. Hindes, the successor of Ashton, became prebendary atnine-and-twenty and died at nine-and-eighty. So that it was not till 1823 or 1824that any one succeeded to the post who intended to make the house his home.The man who did was Dr. Henry Oldys, whose name may be known to some ofmy readers as that of the author of a row of volumes labelled Oldys's Works,which occupy a place that must be honoured, since it is so rarely touched, uponthe shelves of many a substantial library.Dr. Oldys, his niece, and his servants took some months to transfer furnitureand books from his Dorsetshire parsonage to the quadrangle of Whitminster,and to get everything into place. But eventually the work was done, and thehouse (which, though untenanted, had always been kept sound and weather-tight) woke up, and like Monte Cristo's mansion at Auteuil, lived, sang, andbloomed once more. On a certain morning in June it looked especially fair, asDr. Oldys strolled in his garden before breakfast and gazed over the red roof atthe minster tower with its four gold vanes, backed by a very blue sky, and verywhite little clouds."Mary," he said, as he seated himself at the breakfast table and laid downsomething hard and shiny on the cloth, "here's a find which the boy made justnow. You'll be sharper than I if you can guess what it's meant for." It was around and perfectly smooth tablet—as much as an inch thick—of what seemedclear glass. "It is rather attractive at all events," said Mary: she was a fairwoman, with light hair and large eyes, rather a devotee of literature. "Yes," saidher uncle, "I thought you'd be pleased with it. I presume it came from the house:it turned up in the rubbish-heap in the corner." "I'm not sure that I do like it, afterall," said Mary, some minutes later. "Why in the world not, my dear?" "I don'tknow, I'm sure. Perhaps it's only fancy." "Yes, only fancy and romance, ofcourse. What's that book, now—the name of that book, I mean, that you hadyour head in all yesterday?" "The Talisman, Uncle. Oh, if this should turn out tobe a talisman, how enchanting it would be!" "Yes, The Talisman: ah, well,you're welcome to it, whatever it is: I must be off about my business. Is all wellin the house? Does it suit you? Any complaints from the servants' hall?" "No,indeed, nothing could be more charming. The only soupçon of a complaintbesides the lock of the linen closet, which I told you of, is that Mrs. Maple saysshe cannot get rid of the sawflies out of that room you pass through at the otherend of the hall. By the way, are you sure you like your bedroom? It is a longway off from any one else, you know." "Like it? To be sure I do; the further offfrom you, my dear, the better. There, don't think it necessary to beat me: acceptmy apologies. But what are sawflies? will they eat my coats? If not, they mayhave the room to themselves for what I care. We are not likely to be using it.""No, of course not. Well, what she calls sawflies are those reddish things like adaddy-longlegs, but smaller,[1] and there are a great many of them perchingabout that room, certainly. I don't like them, but I don't fancy they aremischievous." "There seem to be several things you don't like this finemorning," said her uncle, as he closed the door. Miss Oldys remained in herchair looking at the tablet, which she was holding in the palm of her hand. Thesmile that had been on her face faded slowly from it and gave place to anexpression of curiosity and almost strained attention. Her reverie was broken bythe entrance of Mrs. Maple, and her invariable opening, "Oh, Miss, could Ispeak to you a minute?"A letter from Miss Oldys to a friend in Lichfield, begun a day or two before, is the[Pg 20][Pg 21][Pg 22]
next source for this story. It is not devoid of traces of the influence of that leaderof female thought in her day, Miss Anna Seward, known to some as the Swanof Lichfield."My sweetest Emily will be rejoiced to hear that we are at length—my beloveduncle and myself—settled in the house that now calls us master—nay, masterand mistress—as in past ages it has called so many others. Here we taste amingling of modern elegance and hoary antiquity, such as has never ere nowgraced life for either of us. The town, small as it is, affords us some reflection,pale indeed, but veritable, of the sweets of polite intercourse: the adjacentcountry numbers amid the occupants of its scattered mansions some whosepolish is annually refreshed by contact with metropolitan splendour, and otherswhose robust and homely geniality is, at times, and by way of contrast, not lesscheering and acceptable. Tired of the parlours and drawing-rooms of ourfriends, we have ready to hand a refuge from the clash of wits or the small talkof the day amid the solemn beauties of our venerable minster, whose silvernchimes daily 'knoll us to prayer,' and in the shady walks of whose tranquilgraveyard we muse with softened heart, and ever and anon with moistenedeye, upon the memorials of the young, the beautiful, the aged, the wise, and thegood."Here there is an abrupt break both in the writing and the style."But my dearest Emily, I can no longer write with the care which you deserve,and in which we both take pleasure. What I have to tell you is wholly foreign towhat has gone before. This morning my uncle brought in to breakfast an objectwhich had been found in the garden; it was a glass or crystal tablet of thisshape (a little sketch is given), which he handed to me, and which, after he leftthe room, remained on the table by me. I gazed at it, I know not why, for someminutes, till called away by the day's duties; and you will smile incredulouslywhen I say that I seemed to myself to begin to descry reflected in it objects andscenes which were not in the room where I was. You will not, however, besurprised that after such an experience I took the first opportunity to secludemyself in my room with what I now half believed to be a talisman of micklemight. I was not disappointed. I assure you, Emily, by that memory which isdearest to both of us, that what I went through this afternoon transcends thelimits of what I had before deemed credible. In brief, what I saw, seated in mybedroom, in the broad daylight of summer, and looking into the crystal depth ofthat small round tablet, was this. First, a prospect, strange to me, of anenclosure of rough and hillocky grass, with a grey stone ruin in the midst, and awall of rough stones about it. In this stood an old, and very ugly, woman in a redcloak and ragged skirt, talking to a boy dressed in the fashion of maybe ahundred years ago. She put something which glittered into his hand, and hesomething into hers, which I saw to be money, for a single coin fell from hertrembling hand into the grass. The scene passed—I should have remarked, bythe way, that on the rough walls of the enclosure I could distinguish bones, andeven a skull, lying in a disorderly fashion. Next, I was looking upon two boys;one the figure of the former vision, the other younger. They were in a plot ofgarden, walled round, and this garden, in spite of the difference in arrangement,and the small size of the trees, I could clearly recognize as being that uponwhich I now look from my window. The boys were engaged in some curiousplay, it seemed. Something was smouldering on the ground. The elder placedhis hands upon it, and then raised them in what I took to be an attitude ofprayer: and I saw, and started at seeing, that on them were deep stains ofblood. The sky above was overcast. The same boy now turned his face towardsthe wall of the garden, and beckoned with both his raised hands, and as he didso I was conscious that some moving objects were becoming visible over the[Pg 23][Pg 24][Pg 25][Pg 26]
top of the wall—whether heads or other parts of some animal or human forms Icould not tell. Upon the instant the elder boy turned sharply, seized the arm ofthe younger (who all this time had been poring over what lay on the ground),and both hurried off. I then saw blood upon the grass, a little pile of bricks, andwhat I thought were black feathers scattered about. That scene closed, and thenext was so dark that perhaps the full meaning of it escaped me. But what Iseemed to see was a form, at first crouching low among trees or bushes thatwere being threshed by a violent wind, then running very swiftly, and constantlyturning a pale face to look behind him, as if he feared a pursuer: and, indeed,pursuers were following hard after him. Their shapes were but dimly seen, theirnumber—three or four, perhaps, only guessed. I suppose they were on thewhole more like dogs than anything else, but dogs such as we have seen theyassuredly were not. Could I have closed my eyes to this horror, I would havedone so at once, but I was helpless. The last I saw was the victim dartingbeneath an arch and clutching at some object to which he clung: and those thatwere pursuing him overtook him, and I seemed to hear the echo of a cry ofdespair. It may be that I became unconscious: certainly I had the sensation ofawaking to the light of day after an interval of darkness. Such, in literal truth,Emily, was my vision—I can call it by no other name—of this afternoon. Tell me,have I not been the unwilling witness of some episode of a tragedy connectedwith this very house?"The letter is continued next day. "The tale of yesterday was not completedwhen I laid down my pen. I said nothing of my experiences to my uncle—youknow, yourself, how little his robust common-sense would be prepared to allowof them, and how in his eyes the specific remedy would be a black draught or aglass of port. After a silent evening, then—silent, not sullen—I retired to rest.Judge of my terror, when, not yet in bed, I heard what I can only describe as adistant bellow, and knew it for my uncle's voice, though never in my hearing soexerted before. His sleeping-room is at the further extremity of this large house,and to gain access to it one must traverse an antique hall some eighty feet longand a lofty panelled chamber, and two unoccupied bedrooms. In the second ofthese—a room almost devoid of furniture—I found him, in the dark, his candlelying smashed on the floor. As I ran in, bearing a light, he clasped me in armsthat trembled for the first time since I have known him, thanked God, andhurried me out of the room. He would say nothing of what had alarmed him. 'To-morrow, to-morrow,' was all I could get from him. A bed was hastily improvisedfor him in the room next to my own. I doubt if his night was more restful thanmine. I could only get to sleep in the small hours, when daylight was alreadystrong, and then my dreams were of the grimmest—particularly one whichstamped itself on my brain, and which I must set down on the chance ofdispersing the impression it has made. It was that I came up to my room with aheavy foreboding of evil oppressing me, and went with a hesitation andreluctance I could not explain to my chest of drawers. I opened the top drawer,in which was nothing but ribbons and handkerchiefs, and then the second,where was as little to alarm, and then, O heavens, the third and last: and therewas a mass of linen neatly folded: upon which, as I looked with curiosity thatbegan to be tinged with horror, I perceived a movement in it, and a pink handwas thrust out of the folds and began to grope feebly in the air. I could bear it nomore, and rushed from the room, clapping the door after me, and strove with allmy force to lock it. But the key would not turn in the wards, and from within theroom came a sound of rustling and bumping, drawing nearer and nearer to thedoor. Why I did not flee down the stairs I know not. I continued grasping thehandle, and mercifully, as the door was plucked from my hand with anirresistible force, I awoke. You may not think this very alarming, but I assure youit was so to me.[Pg 27][Pg 28][Pg 29]
"At breakfast to-day my uncle was very uncommunicative, and I think ashamedof the fright he had given us; but afterwards he inquired of me whether Mr.Spearman was still in town, adding that he thought that was a young man whohad some sense left in his head. I think you know, my dear Emily, that I am notinclined to disagree with him there, and also that I was not unlikely to be able toanswer his question. To Mr. Spearman he accordingly went, and I have notseen him since. I must send this strange budget of news to you now, or it mayhave to wait over more than one post."The reader will not be far out if he guesses that Miss Mary and Mr. Spearmanmade a match of it not very long after this month of June. Mr. Spearman was ayoung spark, who had a good property in the neighbourhood of Whitminster,and not unfrequently about this time spent a few days at the "King's Head,"ostensibly on business. But he must have had some leisure, for his diary iscopious, especially for the days of which I am telling the story. It is probable tome that he wrote this episode as fully as he could at the bidding of Miss Mary."Uncle Oldys (how I hope I may have the right to call him so before long!) calledthis morning. After throwing out a good many short remarks on indifferenttopics, he said 'I wish, Spearman, you'd listen to an odd story and keep a closetongue about it just for a bit, till I get more light on it.' 'To be sure,' said I, 'youmay count on me.' 'I don't know what to make of it,' he said. 'You know mybedroom. It is well away from every one else's, and I pass through the great halland two or three other rooms to get to it.' 'Is it at the end next the minster, then?'I asked. 'Yes, it is: well, now, yesterday morning my Mary told me that the roomnext before it was infested with some sort of fly that the housekeeper couldn'tget rid of. That may be the explanation, or it may not. What do you think?' 'Why,'said I, 'you've not yet told me what has to be explained.' 'True enough, I don'tbelieve I have; but by-the-by, what are these sawflies? What's the size ofthem?' I began to wonder if he was touched in the head. 'What I call a sawfly,' Isaid very patiently, 'is a red animal, like a daddy-longlegs, but not so big,perhaps an inch long, perhaps less. It is very hard in the body, and to me'—Iwas going to say 'particularly offensive,' but he broke in, 'Come, come; an inchor less. That won't do.' 'I can only tell you,' I said, 'what I know. Would it not bebetter if you told me from first to last what it is that has puzzled you, and then Imay be able to give you some kind of an opinion.' He gazed at me meditatively.'Perhaps it would,' he said. 'I told Mary only to-day that I thought you had somevestiges of sense in your head.' (I bowed my acknowledgements.) 'The thing is,I've an odd kind of shyness about talking of it. Nothing of the sort has happenedto me before. Well, about eleven o'clock last night, or after, I took my candle andset out for my room. I had a book in my other hand—I always read somethingfor a few minutes before I drop off to sleep. A dangerous habit: I don'trecommend it: but I know how to manage my light and my bed curtains. Nowthen, first, as I stepped out of my study into the great half that's next to it, andshut the door, my candle went out. I supposed I had clapped the door behindme too quick, and made a draught, and I was annoyed, for I'd no tinder-boxnearer than my bedroom. But I knew my way well enough, and went on. Thenext thing was that my book was struck out of my hand in the dark: if I saidtwitched out of my hand it would better express the sensation. It fell on the floor.I picked it up, and went on, more annoyed than before, and a little startled. Butas you know, that hall has many windows without curtains, and in summernights like these it is easy to see not only where the furniture is, but whetherthere's any one or anything moving, and there was no one—nothing of the kind.So on I went through the hall and through the audit chamber next to it, whichalso has big windows, and then into the bedrooms which lead to my own,where the curtains were drawn, and I had to go slower because of steps hereand there. It was in the second of those rooms that I nearly got my quietus. The[Pg 30][Pg 31][Pg 32][Pg 33]